The Mystère d' Adam and Christian Memory


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

As it survives, the Mystère d'Adam is almost certainly incomplete and uncertain as to when in the year it was performed.1 What exists are three episodes, written in octosyllabic and decasyllabic verse and indebted to two different sources. The first of these episodes recounts the Fall (1-590); the second, Cain's murder of Abel (591-744); and the last offers a procession of prophets predicting Christ's birth (745-944). Interweaving these episodes are Latin stage directions, readings, and responsories. In Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages (1965), O. B. Hardison, Jr., argues the author's direct debt to the Liber responsalis or Book of Responses for Sexagesima for eight responsories that the choir sings at key points in the play. These responsories from Genesis provide the outline for the play's first two episodes in accounts of man's creation and the murder of Abel. In the Middle Ages, these readings would have occurred on the second Sunday before Lent, or seven weeks before Easter.2 Earlier, in Les prophètes du Christ (1878), Marius Sepet had connected the last episode of the drama to the pseudo-Augustinian sermon Contra Judaeos, Paganos et Arianos. In that fifth-century sermon, numerous Old Testament figures appear and denounce faithlessness. They remind audiences that even Jewish and Pagan prophets foresaw Christ's divinity. The sermon was widely known, and it was often read on the fourth Sunday of Advent, on the day before Christmas, on Christmas, and on the Feast of the Circumcision (1 January). While indicating an inventiveness on the playwright's part in linking these unrelated texts, their combination suggests at least two separate playing dates and resolutions. One source ties the play's performance to Easter and projects an ending in Hell's harrowing; the other connects it to Christmas and posits a concluding Nativity. A third "neutral" performance date is offered in Grace Frank's The French Medieval Drama. Citing the play's costumes and the statement that it be performed outdoors, Frank hazards a playing date in midsummer common for cyclical drama.3

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